What's in the French Senate's immigration bill - and does it matter?

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What's in the French Senate's immigration bill - and does it matter?
The French Senate will vote on Tuesday on the new immigration bill. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

The French Senate has passed its version of the new immigration bill - including amendments such as loosening visa rules for British second-home owners and limiting medical care and benefits for foreigners in France.


Debates in parliament have finally begun on the French government's long-awaited new Projet de loi d'immigration - starting in the Senate.

Senators on Tuesday voted to approve the final text - including both the government's original bill and the amendments that have been added by senators.

The bill will now go back to the Assemblée nationale where debates are set to start in December - and where amendments could be added or scrapped and substantial changes made (more on that below).


Here's a look at some of the things that Senators approved;

The government's original bill attempts a balancing act with some items to please the left - such as an amnesty of undocumented workers in certain industries - and some things to please the right, such as making it easier to expel radicalised foreigners and making residency cards conditional on an undertaking to 'respect the values of the republic'.

Explained: What's in the French government's immigration bill?

There is also a proposal to introduce a French language test for long-term residency cards (cartes de séjour). 

However the Senate, which is dominated by the right-wing Les Républicains party, has added a number of amendments. As you would expect, most of these are policies that will please those on the right.

They include;

Healthcare restrictions - currently undocumented foreigners who are in France for more than three months are entitled to basic healthcare under the Aide medicale de l'Etat, with costs reimbursed by the State for hospital treatment and medication. The Senate amendment proposes a complete ban on this for anyone who is undocumented or in an irregular immigration situation - the government is reportedly strongly opposed to this. 

Benefit restrictions - currently foreigners in France can qualify for benefits such as housing allowance or certain family benefits after they have been resident for six months, the Senate wants to increase the qualification period to five years. 

Cancelling amnesty - the government's original bill proposed an amnesty for some undocumented workers - people who have been working in certain industries that have difficulty in recruiting (eg construction, hospitality or care workers) would receive an 'exceptional' residency permit that will regularise their situation. The Senate wants to cancel this part of the bill, which has particularly infuriated right-wingers - the government has already indicated that it will be reinstated once the bill comes to the Assemblée nationale

Expelling radicalised foreigners - the government wants to make it easier to expel radicalised foreigners by removing certain protections, including the current law that says that people who came to France aged 13 or under cannot be expelled once they reach adulthood. The Senate wants to toughen this up still further by allowing the expulsion not just of people who are on terror watchlists, but of people who have "committed a grave and deliberate violation of the principles of the French Republic". 


Toughen asylum rules - the Senators also want to make it easier to expel failed asylum seekers by reducing the amount of time for appeals and allowing a notice to quit the country to be served as soon as a first application is rejected.

Accepting republican principles - the Senate has strongly backed a motion to make getting a carte de séjour residency card conditional on agreeing to abide by 'the principles of the republic'. At present only getting citizenship requires accepting the principles of the French republic, getting a residency card requires only agreeing to follow the laws of the country. The principles are defined in the law as "personal freedom, freedom of expression and conscience, equality between women and men, the dignity of the human person and the motto and symbols of the Republic as defined in article 2 of the Constitution".

Limit family reunification rights - rules around foreigners in France being joined by spouses or family members would also be tightened up, with a minimum stay of 24 months before you can be joined by a spouse or family member, and extra financial requirements.

French citizenship for children born in France - currently children who are born in France to foreign parents are automatically given the right to French citizenship once they reach 18 under the droit du sol principle (although in order to do anything practical like get a passport or ID card they still need to apply for a naturalisation certificate). The Senators proposed that this no longer be an automatic right and children must "express their will" to get citizenship - presumably through an extra admin procedures.

READ ALSO When do children born in France have the right to become French?

All the immigration measures listed above would apply to all non-EU nationals - anyone who needs a visa or carte de séjour to spend more than three months in France - but there was one amendment that is specific to nationality.

Loosening visa rules for British second-home owners - three senators proposed amendments for second-home owners with two proposing a special kind of visa for non-EU nationals who own property in France, allowing them spend extended periods at their French home. However, the one that was eventually adopted refers only to British second-home owners. Its wording is vague, but it proposes 'exempting them from visa rules' - so essentially reverting to the pre-Brexit rules when second-home owners could come and go as they pleased without needing a visa or sticking to only 90 days in every 180. There was no detail on how this would be applied, or what proof would be needed at the border. 

READ ALSO Will France loosen visa rules for second-home owners?


But how much does all this matter? 

In France there are two houses of parliament - the Senate and the Assemblée nationale - and when they cannot agree, it is the Assemblée nationale that has the final say, albeit after a lengthy process.

EXPLAINED: How does the French Senate work?

The government has already indicated that it will scrap several of the Senate amendments once the bill gets to the Asssemblée - and it has the legal right to do so, even though Senators have voted on it. 

The bill is likely to see many more amendments added once it reaches the lower house, and in fact it is shaping up to be a major political battle.

OPINION Immigration may force Macron to finally abandon 'both sides' approach

Politicians from both the left and the right have already said that they find certain articles of the bill - which is intended to find a middle ground - intolerable, so the final shape of the bill will come down to political horse-trading.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Emmanuel Macron's group, although the largest group in parliament, does not have an overall majority and must rely on support from other parties to get bills passed. 

Les Républicains were able to get many of their amendments passed in the Senate because they have a majority there - in the lower house they are the fourth largest group, after Macron's centrist Ensemble group, the left-wing coalition of La Nupes and the far-right Rassemblement National under Marine Le Pen.

Les Républicains do, however, have enough MPs in the Assemblée Nationale to form a majority if they vote in a block with Macron's centrist MPs, if all of the centrists will agree to vote with them.


The other option is for Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to - once again - use the constitutional tool known as Article 49.3 to push the bill through without a vote, something that is certain to trigger a vote of no confidence in the government.

In short - expect fireworks in December, and don't expect all of those above Senate amendments to remain in the bill - if the bill is passed at all.


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Peter M 2023/11/14 16:17
Who a "foreigner" in this case? Is this is a non-French citizen but an EU citizen? Or is this anyone non-French?
  • Emma Pearson 2023/11/14 16:27
    Well the bill is referring to all immigrants, but EU citizens are exempt from requirements for visas and resident cards, for example, so anything to do with a carte de séjour would not apply to them. Likewise undocumented workers are, by definition, non-EU citizens because EU freedom of movement gives people the right to live *and work* in any of the 27 countries in the Bloc

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